What Is The Mighty Iron Ore Train? Here’s Everything You Need To Know.

January 13, 2023

It’s like Lawrence of Arabia. But instead of riding horseback deep within the Arabian peninsula, this trip takes you to the far stretches of the Sahara. And you won’t be riding a horse, but a train carrying iron ore.

It’s not a typical holiday.

But if you’re looking for a challenging adventure filled with gorgeous desert scenery, a ride on the Iron Ore Train is perfect for you.

Here’s some information you’ll need to know before booking a trip on the Iron Ore Train.

What is the Iron Ore Train?

Mauritania, a country located in West Africa, is home to one of the longest trains in the world. It’s known as the Iron Ore Train. This behemoth runs on a single track stretching over 260 miles (420 kilometres). It goes from the mining town of Zouerat, in the north of the country, to the coastal city of Nouadhibou, in the west.

The Iron Ore Train carries raw iron ore from the mines in Zouerat to the port of Nouadhibou, where it is exported. It’s operated by the national mining company Société Nationale Industrielle et Minière, which has operated in Mauritania since the 1960s.

The train is a crucial part of the country’s economy, as the mining and export of iron ore account for a significant portion of Mauritania’s GDP. It plays a vital role in the country’s development, providing employment and infrastructure opportunities in the mining and transport industries.

The operation of the Iron Ore Train also has its challenges. The train travels through a desert landscape, which can make it vulnerable to sandstorms and other harsh weather conditions. Additionally, the train is so long that it can take several hours to pass a single point, causing a plethora of problems.

Despite these challenges, this mechanical beast symbolises the country’s resilience and resourcefulness. Iron ore mining has been the country’s backbone for many years. It is a testament to the determination of the Mauritanian people to overcome the difficulties of operating in such a harsh environment.

Kudos to them. Not many people could do it.

In recent years, there have been talks about upgrading the train’s infrastructure—for example, using automation to improve efficiency and safety. One idea is for a new deepwater port near Nouadhibou—an upgrade that would make it possible to load larger ships and increase export capabilities.

Overall, the Iron Ore Train in Mauritania is a formidable engineering feat and a vital link in the country’s economy. Its operation may be challenging, but it remains a crucial driver of growth in a country struggling to develop. Jobs, incomes, and opportunities for the people of Mauritania all come from the Iron Ore Train.

Lucky for you, it’s possible to ride it.

Riding the Iron Ore Train

Iron Ore Train in Mauritania At Sunset

For our journey on the train, we get on in the town of Choum. The train comes through three times a day. The schedule is unpredictable. Sometimes the train arrives on time, but often, it doesn’t. In Mauritania (and anywhere you travel), it’s essential to expect the unexpected and plan on things not going as planned.

Once on the train, it’s a thirteen-hour ride to the coast.

What to expect

First, let’s look at what not to expect.

Don’t expect five-star amenities. It’s a challenging ride, void of beds and toilets. People don’t take this trip for comfort. So if that’s what you’re after, best go somewhere else.

But, if you’re the type of soul who can recognise the growth that comes from adversity, this might be an ideal adventure. If you can ride on a hulking train through a desert for over half a day, you can do anything. Riding the Iron Ore Train is a testament to your strength, as it’s not for the weak of heart.

Other people riding the train with you will probably have the same adventurous spirit. Use your time together to connect with them! The ride is a great chance to meet others, share experiences, and possibly forge lifelong friendships.

The scenery you will see

On the scenery front, the Iron Ore Train passes almost entirely through the Sahara, so desert topography is what’s on the menu.

There are vast and barren landscapes characterised by rolling dunes, rocky outcroppings, and sparse vegetation. Depending on the time of year, the desert may appear quite dry and desolate, with blowing sand and dust obscuring much of the view.

However, in some areas the train passes, you will see small oases—a stark contrast to the barren landscape. Also, the train route goes through some towns and villages, which give a glimpse into the local way of life, such as traditional houses made of mud brick and nomadic people living in tents.

As the train approaches the port of Nouadhibou, the landscape starts to change and become greener, with more vegetation. Several small fishing villages dot the coast. The port is located on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and from the train, you’ll see the ocean, with fishing boats and ships on the horizon.

It’s worth noting that the view from the train could be affected by weather conditions such as sandstorms, which frequently occur in the desert. At such times, visibility is significantly reduced, and the train journey might be bumpy.

Overall, the Iron Ore Train journey through Mauritania offers a mix of desert landscapes, small towns, and coastal views, providing a unique and exciting travel experience that might give an idea of how challenging it could be to survive in such a harsh environment. If anything, you’ll walk away from the journey with a deeper appreciation for the Mauritanian people.

It’s a rocky ride. The nights are chilly. You probably won’t sleep well.

And yet…

Time and time again, once the train arrives in Nouadhibou, our clients come off the Iron Ore Train grinning from ear to ear.


It’s hard to say. But there’s no doubt that a tremendous sense of accomplishment comes with riding atop a pile of iron ore on a train through the Sahara desert in one of the least visited countries in the world.

Not many people can say they’ve done that.

Check out our tour of Mauritania. We run several a year. The Iron Ore Train is the central experience of this trip. But there’s so much more on the itinerary, such as an excursion into Western Sahara.

Lupine Travel runs tours to over 35 different countries. Our mission is to support the local economy, protect the environment, and give you an unforgettable adventure.

Find your next holiday in our list of destinations.

Questions about any of these destinations?

Email or call us.

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Author Lupine Travel
2023 Jan 13
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